In a digital world, New York show wonders ‘What Is a Photograph’

With no need for paper, prints or other traditional elements of photography anymore, a retrospective on the photographic arts raises several questions.

What is a photograph?
From photography’s very beginning, there has always been more than one answer to that question. On the medium’s official launch in 1839, a photograph was both a precise, one-of-a-kind image permanently fixed on a mirror-like metal plate (the Daguerreotype) and a replicable print on paper, made from a paper negative (the calotype, or photogenic drawing).

Ever since, what photographs look and feel like has continued to evolve with changing technology and aesthetic intent. A camera or even a lens has never been requisite to the process (think of photograms, made by placing objects directly onto prepared paper), but a few ingredients have been constant: light, at least, and a photo-sensitive surface.

Now, with the advent of digital media, even those basics have dropped away as no longer necessary. What is a photograph? The answer becomes even more elusive, rendering the question either moot or newly pressing, depending on who’s asking.

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